Sustainability carries more importance now than ever in facilities management because it’s become so distinctly connected with the bottom line. Efforts in sustainability can help businesses not only become more environ- mentally friendly, but they can also help reduce costs and develop a positive reputation. Because buildings are often the easiest
places to introduce sustainable practices and save energy,
resources and money, many FMs are already taking on sustainability projects. Furthermore, working in sustainability can take
place in a variety of arenas within a business, school, hospital or
any other organization.
That’s where opportunity might present itself for the savvy FM.
Typically operating at the top tiers of leadership within an organization, the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is a position that has
been developing in both the public and private spheres for over
a decade and is still growing. In 2004, DuPont hired former EPA
regulator Linda Fisher to take on sustainability efforts as CSO.
DuPont was the first publicly traded company to name a CSO, and
dozens of the world’s largest companies followed suit. That practice continues today in organizations of all sizes.
This position might go by other names (Director of Sustainability,
Director of Social and Environmental Responsibility, etc.), but
they are all positions that provide a level of executive input. But
how do you become a CSO? And what if your institution has no
Connecting the Dots:
Kathleen Miller and George Serafeim’s study “Chief Sustainability Officers:
Who Are They and What Do They Do?” identifies the ongoing development
of the CSO position. They break this evolution into three stages that address
the trends and idiosyncrasies of an organization’s efforts in sustainability.
1) Institutions first take on sustainability during the compliance stage.
Most CSOs at this point are simply involving their institution in sustainable
practices that fulfill various regulations, most of which are environmental.
Miller and Serafeim found that during this stage, “those primarily responsible for sustainability have a wide range of responsibilities but are not
positioned for high levels of authority.” They even note that most do not
even hold the title of CSO yet.
How CSOs Are Made
2) As efforts in sustainability develop, organizations move on to a more
strategically based efficiency stage. At this point, sustainability becomes
legitimized within the institution and often addresses reputation and
opportunities to save money by reducing waste and fostering efficiency.
The position of CSO becomes officially recognized.
3) The third stage in development is innovation. Institutions “begin to take a
proactive and transformational approach to sustainability rather than the
more reactive approaches that characterize the first two stages,” explain
Miller and Serafeim. Approaches often become unique to the company
and larger in scope, often addressing societal problems in addition to
Learn from two CSOs how your experience can lead you to the C-suite